Thursday, January 17, 2013

Regarding the Funk

Unexpectedly I got quite a few emails, messages and questions about the last post and I thought it worth addressing some of the recurring questions asked and comments made.

First off, several folks pointed out that it sounded as though I were complaining about something that they themselves were aspiring to do and were quick to point out how lucky I am to be working on projects like Magic: the Gathering. So, how dare I complain about being unfulfilled.

I'm not going to argue my good fortune. It's true, after all. Magic is a great client that has treated me insanely well. While I do have complaints, they're minor ones that aren't the sort of thing that would cause me to walk away from anything. The issue of lack of fulfillment, as I see it, is not client or project specific. It's not even their fault. The shortcomings are my own. Of late, I've found my ability to turn many of my assignments into things that get me excited rather lacking. While I think I've kept my work to a certain level of quality, there's a spark that I feel is missing. If I'm not excited about something, it's impossible for me to make exciting work, and I feel like it's only a matter of time before that becomes apparent in the end result (if it hasn't already).

The actual cause for all of this is multifaceted and is something that has resulted in a lot of soul searching. Unfortunately, I don't have any clear answers apart from genre fatigue and a permeating sense of temporariness in much of my life. There are lots of things that add to the mix, but I'm working on it. The crux of the matter is that it's not really the fault of the clients, so please relax.

Second, I've been asked by a couple folks what I'd actually be excited to do. That's a hard question for me to answer. To be honest, I feel like I've suffered a degree of creativity drain. The increased prevalence of style guides in the industry has allowed parts of my brain to disengage to a certain extent. I'm not thinking about cool ideas as much as I once did and instead follow the art orders and style sheets as per the clients' needs. Designs I can call my own are increasingly rare and cool idea pieces seem even rarer. When I finally sit down to work on my own stuff, more often than not I find nothing but static and cobwebs occupying my brain.

On the rare occasion that an idea actually pops up, however, it almost never gets off the ground before I fall out of love with it. Indeed there are only three or four pieces floating around in my head that have lasted over the course of the last several years. Even among these ideas, I'm unsure if any of them are really worthy of the finite time I have to devote to them when not working on commissions or doing the various other tasks necessary to make life's machine run smoothly. I do not work quickly and so I need to feel confident in the value of the end result. Admittedly that's a pretty twisted way of looking at things for a guy who likes the process so much, but there has to be a payoff somehow for me not to feel like I've wasted my time on something when I could have either made a couple bucks more on a paid gig, or spent that time with my loved ones.

I guess the short version of this answer is that right now the ideas aren't flowing, but I know that I'm pretty excited by the few ideas I do have. Truth be told, I've only recently started asking myself what I want out of my work and pondering how to get it, and the lack of answers is certainly a huge factor in my current state of mind. I have faith that I'll figure it all out and come back around again. In fact, I can already feel it beginning to happen. So I guess I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

Third, am I having issues with the industry? Well, there's an element of that, yeah. In fact, it's an issue that has been weighing on a lot of people's minds of late. The truth is that within fantasy gaming art, there are very few companies that pay well. Even those that do provide decent compensation cannot guarantee enough work to keep an illustrator above the poverty line. This issue was discussed quite honestly and at great length during a panel at IlluxCon this past year that can be listened to here.

While there continues to be a great demand for quality artwork, the glut of talent and limited amount of funds makes for a very difficult environment indeed. In the dozen or so years I've been illustrating professionally, rates have simply not increased — and in some cases they've even gotten lower. Since the cost of living has continued to go up, the only way to keep the lights on is to shoulder more and more work (which is what led to the limited time available for personal work mentioned above). So, it's getting harder and harder to make a living doing this job — especially for someone who works traditionally, like myself.

To me, if one finds that they're not really in love with their work and it's not paying particularly well, it's only natural for one to question the value of continuing down that path. Curiously, despite my funk, I've decided to keep illustrating for the time being. Were I to win the lottery, who knows? But right now, I'm going to keep at it.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who wrote in, messaged me, and called. Good to know I still rank in some peoples' monkeysphere. I should have the belated update on the personal piece tomorrow or on the weekend. I'm behind due to an incorrectly remembered schedule and the hurried preparation for last week's Magic Grand Prix in Atlantic City preempting any painting I might have gotten done.


  1. Thanks for the post and the link to the panel at Illuxcon! I'll be sure to give it a listen. As for getting the creative juices flowing again, do you have any local artist pals that live nearby? Ever think about putting together an art session where you can all work together, maybe once a week? In school, as valuable as the actual learning of technique, I find the exposure to other creative perspectives highly stimulating and inspiring. Sometimes having the feedback of other creatives in your studio can stoke the fires.

    1. Sure, I'm always in touch with a core group of fellow illustrators who I respect very highly. But they don't exactly have the ability to tell me what I want out of my own work. That, more than anything, is at issue here.



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